Expert Q and A: Kathy Smith’s Fitness Secrets

An interview with fitness guru Kathy Smith.

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 10, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Fitness icon Kathy Smith says these two questions are your key to losing weight, toning up, and getting healthy:

  • What gets you going?
  • And more importantly, what keeps you coming back for more?

"Find a passion ... and attack it," says Smith, whose motto is "Dream it. Believe it. Achieve it."

Smith, president of Kathy Smith Lifestyles in Los Angeles, has sold more than 16 million of her workout videos worldwide since 1980. She shared her exercise secrets with WebMD.

What is your personal fitness routine in an average week?

I've always adhered to the triangle approach: strength/cardio/flexibility. And I alternate those types of workouts throughout the week.

  • Cardio is not only great for circulation and calorie-burning, but it gives me tons of energy.
  • Strength training keeps me toned and sculpted, giving me a sense of empowerment.
  • Flexibility helps keep me feeling lean and light and keeps me composed on those days when a sense of balance seems near-impossible.

I've been doing all three of these disciplines for more than 30 years and constantly tweak or modify my weekly workouts depending on where I think I need a little extra support.

What advice do you give to people just starting to exercise or who haven't exercised in a long time?

Getting to know your own energy cycles is so important: Are you a lark who bounds out of bed in the morning, or an owl who comes alive in the evening?

Once you determine the best time of day for you to exercise, put it on your schedule -- just like you would any meeting or appointment. And make sure you’re getting enough rest the night before.

When you’re new to exercise, a good night’s sleep can be your best friend.

Another important step is to find a workout buddy.

Whether it’s joining a walking group or meeting a friend for a Pilates class or strength training workout, exercising with a partner not only keeps you motivated and accountable (so that you’ll show up when you say you will), but you might even have some fun in the process.

How can someone who doesn't like to exercise learn to like, or at least tolerate, it?

It's important to regain a sense of playing in our lives, and exercise is often a great way to do that.

If you start with something you love, or at least something you've always wanted to try, you're much more likely to come back for more.

Finding a Latin dance class that really gets you into the groove, discovering a new hiking trail with some friends -- any way you can find to connect your passion to movement.

What's the best kind of exercise to do for weight loss?

We can't underestimate the power of strength training.

Starting around age 30, we experience what I call "The Great Decline," as we begin to lose muscle mass at an ever-increasing rate. Not only does this affect our bone density and risk for chronic diseases, but it becomes more difficult to maintain our shape, tone, and vitality.

Too many people, especially women concerned with weight loss, associate muscle mass with bulk.

The more lean muscle we have on our bodies, the greater number of calories we burn per day -- many of them when we're sitting still and even sleeping.

If you're not ready to start bench pressing and hitting the squat rack at the gym, any type of resistance training is still effective. I love resistance tubes because they're adjustable, versatile, and so lightweight that you can bring them with you virtually everywhere.

What are some healthy foods/snacks you recommend for people who don't have a lot of time to cook?

"Not enough time" is the No. 1 excuse I hear as to why people don't exercise or eat right. But a healthy diet doesn't have to involve a ton of time cooking.

The key is preparation. Spend a Sunday night stocking up for the week at the grocery store, and preparing everything so that you have an easy grab-and-go situation for the remainder of the week.

Bake a tray of skinless chicken breasts with your favorite spices so that they're ready to throw on salads anytime you want. Chop up bell peppers and other veggies ... so you have easily accessible snacks.

Make a big pot of steel-cut oatmeal that you can refrigerate and pull out every morning for breakfast. Throw in some fresh berries, stir in some protein powder and a splash of skim or almond milk, and you've got a perfectly balanced morning meal.

What's your guilty splurge food?

Blueberry pie a la mode; Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream; and I love chocolate.

If someone has just 20 minutes a day to exercise, what should they focus on?

[Be] consistent. ... Twenty minutes really adds up when you're doing it six days a week year-round, but doesn't amount to much if you're only doing it a couple times a week.

Start with 20 minutes of something you love to do, and build on that. So if you feel like dancing, dance. If you'd like to try yoga, start there.

The other key aspect is intensity. It's important to make those 20 minutes count.

Compound exercises that work upper body, lower body, and core simultaneously not only save time, but they send your calorie burn through the roof.

If you're pushing yourself, 20 minutes can actually be more effective than a longer, less intense workout.

What are your top fitness tips for women over 40?

If there's one piece of advice I can give to women of 40, it's to start strength training.

How can a woman get rid of her belly after menopause? Or keep herself from getting one?

I have a three-step formula when it comes to getting great abs: "Activate, Stimulate, Eliminate."

Activate refers to activating your entire abdominal wall with a variety of exercises that target the upper, lower, and oblique areas of the core.

You also have to stimulate your fat-burning engines with cardio exercise. You can do crunches until the cows come home, but you do have to lose the layer of fat over your abdominal muscles in order to see the fruits of your labor.

Then there's elimination, which is where diet comes into play. All your hard work on whittling your waistline is a wasted effort if you're not taking food into consideration.

What's your greatest exercise secret?

My secret is to stay engaged ... both mentally and physically.

Focusing your energy on the muscle group you're working, instead of just going through the motions, makes all the difference in the world. Paying close attention to your form during the entire movement really allows you to reap the full benefits of whatever exercise you're doing.